Is your work-life balance anything but ideal? There may be multiple reasons and it’s important to understand where your difficulties might be coming from.
Things that often get in the way of a work-life balance
You don’t know what a work-life balance looks like for you
Work can play a different role in each of our lives. For some, work is a calling or something that holds deep meaning. They might find great satisfaction, pleasure, and fulfilment in it. Their perfect balance would be to work hard, have some rest to replenish their physical energy and dive right into work again the next day.
For someone else, work might just be a way to earn income. Their source of real pleasure might be something they engage in outside of work e.g. a sport or activity, a relationship, their family or something else. Their perfect balance might be working part-time and enjoying life doing something else in their own time.
For others, career might be equally as important as family and they might strive to divide their attention equally between these two. This might come easily to some but often requires compromise.
To start with, ask yourself what your ideal work-life balance looks like. How would you like to distribute your time between work and other activities? Would you like to work more? Would you like to spend more time with your friends or relatives? Are there other activities you would like to include in your life?
You find it hard to switch off
You may know your goals and what you’d like to pursue in life, but find it hard to switch off from work and find time for those activities. If this sounds like you, remember that you are not alone and there are ways to switch off to promote a work-life balance.
A survey of 2000 people conducted by Aviva in 2019 revealed that most working people are unable to switch off from work, even on weekends. Their research found that 72% of workers were checking emails outside of working hours and working longer than their contracted hours. Altogether the extra time worked by an average person would total an extra 16 days a year.
In addition to this, many people don’t use all of their annual leave. Others do take holidays but continue thinking about work, and almost half say they don’t feel rested on their return to work.
How can you switch off?
1. Separate home and office space in the house if working from home
It is ideal if you have room inside your house that can be a dedicated workspace. If this isn’t possible, try working in a room other that your bedroom. This helps us to separate work and rest and switch off at the end of the day.
2. Switch off alerts outside working hours
Why don’t you introduce this kind of ban for yourself on weekends and evenings and stop sending or checking emails? Your employer and colleagues should not expect a response outside of your contracted hours.
3. Write a daily exit list
Before you leave your desk at the end of the day, write down everything you need to do tomorrow. Even if you have a digital task management tool, the act of writing things down can clear your mind and build a sense of control. If you feel like you are on top of things, you’ll tell yourself that you deserve to relax.
4. Have a shutdown ritual
It’s good to have a daily ritual that signals to your brain that work is finished. You could simply pack your laptop away (especially relevant if you don’t have a designated study or office) or you could introduce a ’15 minute rule’. This means that straight after work you do something nice for 15 minutes. This could be listen to music, talk to family, cook a meal, take a walk, water plants in your garden or something else. It is important that the activity is enjoyable, disconnected from your job (not reading something business-related) and ideally, screen-free.
5. Make a quick note
If you suddenly remember something after work and feel the urge to open your laptop and send an email, try to resist. Instead, write your thought down. Use a notepad, digital note or voice note but don’t reopen your laptop. This creates a sense of separation and perspective which is important to a work-life balance.
You are not efficient while working
When working from home it might feel like we have more time, perhaps because there’s no commute or we can eat our lunch quickly without leaving the space. We might feel the benefit of working flexibly e.g. for parents, it gives an opportunity do pick-ups and drop-offs. It might be OK for some, but many end up spreading their work outside of working hours and without a cut off. In the end they feel even more exhausted than when they were commuting to the office.
How to be more efficient during working hours
1. Stick to a routine
Have some ground rules, routines, or working schedule even when you are working from home. Routines maintain a sense of control and make it easier to schedule other activities that enable us to switch off. Routines might include getting up and going to bed at the same time every day, eating breakfast at a certain time or playing sports on specific days. It could also be planning time for relaxation or only scheduling meetings in the morning to allow focus time in the afternoon.
2. Use your “Out of Office”
Interruptions are the best way to ruin our productivity. Emails or quick chats can fill your day with mini-meetings and tasks. The time in between this is usually not enough to complete anything meaningful.
It is important to keep in mind that most things don’t require immediate attention and can wait a few hours. You will work much more efficiently if you schedule some uninterrupted time during the hours when you are most productive and check these smaller tasks during a different time. You could use the “Out of Office” alert or block out time in your calendar to prevent people from squeezing in calls.
3. Have regular breaks
Many people reduce their lunch breaks to get more things done. The reality is, our body does need breaks. It’s often better to have several short breaks during the day than working the whole day without breaks and relaxing in the evening. In addition to a lunch break, try to have a number of short 10-15 minute breaks. Doing light physical exercise like walking around the block can make breaks even more efficient.
4. Reward yourself for your successes
Changing or introducing new things into your life might not always be an easy journey, but it’s a worthwhile one. Be patient and persistent when building a work-life balance. Every tiny new habit you stick to is getting you closer to a better, more fulfilling, balanced life. Take time to celebrate your wins and reward yourself!